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Betting Shops: Serious Crime

Volume 774: debated on Monday 5 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the incidence of serious crime affecting betting shops and their staff.

My Lords, all those who work in betting shops should be able to do so free from fear of crime. Where crimes are committed, they should be reported to the police so that they can be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

My Lords, given that betting shops account for 97% of all police calls to gambling establishments and 40% of serious crimes against businesses, and given that 7,000 machines are destroyed by gamblers in these premises each year and a growing proportion of shops have only one staff member on the premises, despite a rising tide of violent assaults on staff, when will the Government implement the delayed triennial review of the industry, and will it require a minimum of two employees to be present at all times when such premises are open?

The noble Lord is absolutely right about the percentage, but of course betting shops make up a huge percentage of gambling establishments. He is absolutely right to make the point about tackling crime at betting shops and the police should be, and are, taking it seriously. As he will know, there are requirements around licensing to protect vulnerable people, and some of the partnership working that is going on—for example, the Safe Bet Alliance, which was set up in London in 2010—has proved very successful.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred to the criminal damage suffered by some 7,000 fixed-odds betting terminals every year. Do the Government acknowledge that this is a consequence of the addictive nature of these high-stakes machines, and when do they plan to lower the stakes for these machines?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. Of course, gamblers will be attracted to all types of gambling opportunities, whether through fixed-odds betting terminals or online, which nowadays is so easy. We will consider the report from the DCMS very carefully. To address the noble Lord’s question, last year we brought in new requirements that will improve player protection by stopping unsupervised playing with stakes over £50. Some social responsibility has also been brought into the industry by allowing customers to make active choices with regard to both the money they put in and the time they spend on the machines.

My Lords, does the Minister not accept that, by allowing the proliferation of crime, one of the founding principles of the Gambling Act, which gave this country the most regulated gambling industry in the world, is being undermined? Further, does she not accept that it is time for the Gambling Commission to become more interventionist in controlling the risks from fixed-odds betting machines and that it is time to give local authorities the partnership power to regulate planning consent to limit the number of betting shops?

The noble Baroness makes some good points. New planning laws introduced in 2015 make it harder to open betting shops on the high street and the Government will take further action if necessary. She talks about the Gambling Commission. As I said to the noble Lord, the commission introduced some social responsibility requirements in terms of customers making active choices regarding time spent on machines and money limits.

My Lords, I know from previous Written Questions to the Home Office that the Home Office does not hold data on the number of police-recorded crimes in licensed premises, such as betting shops, or indeed in any other location. Will the Minister consider reviewing this policy?

The most recent data that we have are from the Commercial Victimisation Survey, which includes the whole industry of casinos, bookmakers and arcades. Therefore, we have information and we take it very seriously.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of research that shows a link between crime and anti-social behaviour and those areas where there are large clusters of betting shops. She has already acknowledged that some changes in planning legislation have made it slightly harder to open a betting shop. Does she not agree that the time has now come to go even further and make betting shops a single-use category under planning legislation?

I do not agree with the noble Lord on that point but I agree that councils, the police and licensing committees all need to take into consideration some of the harms that gambling can cause. However, some of the most dangerous gambling now takes place online, where no one can see it.

I believe my noble friend Lord Beecham asked when the Government would implement the delayed triennial review and whether it would require a minimum of two employees to be present at all times when betting shops are open. I did not hear a response to that question. Could the Minister reply to the specific question asked by my noble friend Lord Beecham?

The noble Lord is right: I did not entirely answer the question. However, I answered one of the questions the noble Lord asked. We will, of course, consider the triennial review and take action if necessary. One of the measures that gambling establishments and betting shops are taking is to have more staff. Licensing regulations require that vulnerable people, including staff, are protected.